Competition to coaching: Student-athletes rejoin former teams behind the bench

Media Credit: Jack Borowiak | Staff Photographer

Stephanie Stoicovy Worrell, an assistant coach for gymnastics, competed with the squad before joining the coaching staff.

For most student-athletes, their senior season caps years of hard work and sacrifice. But for a few, it marks the beginning of a new chapter in their athletic career – the transition from player to coach.

Five former players have extended their leases as Colonials by coming onto the coaching staff of the teams they played for. The assistant coaches, who hail from men’s cross country and track and field, women’s basketball, gymnastics and men’s squash, said their past athletic experience helps them form better relationships with athletes and incorporates their experience as athletes into each program.

Matt Lange, men’s and women’s track and cross country assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, is in his second season with the program. As a runner, he stamped his name into the record books.

During the 2017-18 season, he was one of the first athletes in GW history to qualify for the NCAA meet in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. He helped the Colonials nab their highest finish at the Atlantic 10 conference in the same season and received first-team All-Conference nods.

Lange said being one of the older players on the team as a graduate student helped prepare him for the transition from player to coach. He added that his experience as a Colonial gives him greater authority and reliability from players because he can speak “from experience” and help athletes navigate their workload and practice.

“When I tell them I know what it’s like being a student-athlete, I know what it’s like trying to balance that and I know what it’s like to balance it here,” he said. “I think that really resonates with them.”

In most sports, playing experience is an informal prerequisite for a coaching career. Lange knew he wanted to coach while he was still a player, adding that accepting head coach Terry Weir’s offer to lead was a “no brainer.”

Like Lange, Weir ran in college at South Alabama and racked up two All-Conference picks for cross country and five for track and field. Lange said he feels “very fortunate” to work under someone with Weir’s experience.

“Similar to what I was saying, me talking to the athletes, I feel the same way when I talk to coach Weir,” Lange said. “Someone who’s done it themselves. I feel like there’s no other way to get started in this business.”

Women’s basketball graduate assistant Anna Savino said she is grateful for the opportunity to become a colleague of her former coach, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti.

“She was the former president of the Women’s Basketball Coach Association and she’s the assistant coach for the USA Olympic team,” Savino said. “She’s someone who obviously I want to stay very close to and has a lot of connections.”

Savino held several different roles with women’s basketball at GW. She served as the team’s manager for three years before walking on as a player during the 2018-19 season. She started 27 games in her senior season and averaged 2.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in 25.3 average minutes of action.

Savino said she currently assists in practices and administrative operations, like travel. She said the transition from player to coach has not negatively affected her relationship with her former teammates.

“There hasn’t been an instance where I’ve had to be like, ‘Hey guys, remember I’m not your teammate anymore’ just because they’re such a great group of girls anyway, that they know what it’s like, what the difference is now,” Savino said.

Moudy Abdel-Maksoud, who graduated in 2019, played at the No. 1 spot on the ladder for men’s squash and returned as a student assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s programs.

He inked his name in the men’s squash record book, earning the third slot on the career singles’ wins list, tallying 54 over his tenure. He was a member of two Hoehn Cup-winning teams and earned College Squash Association All-American honors twice.

Gymnastics’ coaching staff holds two assistant coaches who competed for the Colonials – Chelsea Raineri and Stephanie Stoicovy Worrell. Raineri graduated in 2017, was a member of two East Atlantic Gymnastics League title-winning teams and became the third gymnast in GW history to compete individually at the NCAA Championship, where she competed on the vault.

Stoicovy Worrell graduated from GW in 2013 and joined the coaching staff in 2015. In 2018, she was named EAGL Assistant Coach of the Year.

“The competition aspect never went away,” Stoicovy Worrell said in an email. “As a student athlete, it was about competing for the team and representing GW and as a coach it’s about competing to make each student-athlete better every time I interact with them.”

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